Some of you know that I deal a lot with continual pain. (see Not A Moment to Lose: Praising God in Times of Pain).
Recently, while reading Psalm 23, I was struck by how every verse could minister to a specific need someone has when they are suffering from pain.
I wrote this post specifically to share things I’ve learned about being in physical pain (and the fallout emotional, mental, spiritual pain) but in reality everyone around you is experiencing pain of some kind. Everyone in this world is trying to swallow something or limping from a wound.
You’re not special – I’m not special. We’re quick to label ourselves, to think we’re the only ones, but it’s not true. Everyone’s hurting.
As you read this post and reread Psalm 23 – I hope it helps you. I pray that the Holy Spirit would minister to you as He has graciously ministered to me.
“The Lord is my shepherd”
If you have experinced reoccuring pain for years, you know it’s a hard path to navigate, full of twists and turns, roots to trip us and holes to swallow us. We need a guide to help us navigate this difficult trail.
But he’s not just a guide – someone hired to do a job – he is a shepherd. A shepherd guides and protects not just because it is his job, but because he loves those he is shepherding. This isn’t a forced jog/march of endurance to be completed in a certain time frame. The shepherd pauses to find the lost sheep, to disentangle this one from a patch of briers, to pull this one out of a stream. He isn’t someone who is concerned with just fulfilling the minimum of their task – he is a friend. He’ll talk to his sheep; he knows them each by name. At night, he shows them the stars. When it storms, he quiets them with singing. When the bear and lion come to attack, he leaps into the breach. The shepherd is constant, He is tender, He is firm, and He loves.
Not just any guide, not just any shepherd – it is the Lord who walks beside us. I’m not part of a guided tour with a leader who punches the clock, waving a hand and bellows: “Move it, people!” to the stragglers.
When a sheep is wounded, the shepherd carries his ward on his shoulders. I can testify to you, as I sit here and write this, I have ridden on his shoulders during this time of pain. If I’m strong enough, He sets me down and holds my hand over the rough patches, but He is always touching me, always near. He is our GOOD Shepherd, full of eternal love for us.
” . . . I shall not want.”
Anybody who is in constant or reoccurring pain knows that your day is pretty much taken up with a burning, persistent want.
I want to be healed. I want to be pain-free.
Looking at this Scripture, I am confronted with the truth . . . I have everything that I need, because I have Him. Even in my pain, I shall not want.
I promise you, once this truth becomes real in your heart, the battle is half-won. He is EVERYTHING, and He is greater than my pain, greater than any wish. He IS my desire. Beneath it all, beneath every hope and every whim, HE has always been what I wanted, the one I seek, the one I long for. His presence is my goal, his arms are where I want to be. Oh, how can I even begin to describe how much I want Him. That empty space behind every success, that feeling that something or someone is missing while standing amongst my friends, that ache I feel when I experience beauty. I want Him.
And as difficult as it is – the more that is taken away from me, the more that I lose, the more that He gives. When there is less of me, there is more of Him. The trade is worth it. He is life itself.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”
The word that most interests me here is “maketh.”
My middle name is Hustle. I have to literally schedule in breaks for myself – if I’m not forced to rest, I won’t rest. Enter pain – and now I am forced (made) to rest with great frequency.
I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t like it. A minimum of eight hours out of twenty four is supposed to be set aside for sleeping. Obviously resting (and learning how to rest) is important! It causes us to understand an aspect of our faith.
God is pleased when we’re not idle and work hard, but He also wants us to rest. If a soldier doesn’t have leave now and then, he’s not in top form for upcoming battles. If an invalid doesn’t rest, they’ll never recover from the flu. If we are never resting and still, we cannot know what it’s like to rest in His arms and in His peace.
“He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
There is nothing calm about being in pain. We are like so much floatsom and jetsom being tossed around on choppy waves, caught in an endless cycle of one typhoon after another. Like a thunderstorm battering at a roof, we are in constant peril of collapsing under the onslaught of not only physical pain, but mental, emotional, and spiritual torment.
When I start to feel overwhelmed, I reach out to Him. Where else could I possibly go? There is no other recourse. But when I am truly surrendering to Him in the pain, not complaining, not fighting His will, not asking why – there is peace. The raging stills and I rest in Him.
“He restoreth my soul.”
There are some scenes in films we shall never forget – that radiate within us. For me, one of those scenes comes from the 1954 film Robinson Crusoe.
Alone on his island, Robinson is literally starting to lose his sanity. His eyes grow wild, something inside him is on the verge of snapping. He turns and races through the jungle, finally breaking free of the brush and pausing on the edge of a precipice. Does he jump? No. He begins to scream Psalm 23 into its depths – simply to hear the echo. If he does not hear another human voice, he will go mad.
Robinson pauses as he shrieks “He restoreth my soul” and then shouts it repeatedly. The echos of restoration fill the chasm with thunder and melt back to him in whispers and he slowly sinks to his knees, because in the echoes of his frantic cries, he hears the voice of the Restorer of Souls and His unfailing promise.
In times of reoccurring pain, the mental torment can often exceed any physical pain. Racing thoughts, obsessive thoughts – a mind that feels like an engine about to tear itself to pieces, emotions spiraling wildly out of control and a spirit that feels like a boiler about to implode from too much pressure as our hope dies again and again. The fear of closed doors, the inevitability of our future, the panic of not being able to find the emergency exit overtakes us. I understand, I’ve experienced it.
In those moments, I start to pray, almost chanting: Praise be to my God, the Restorer of my Soul. Great is the Soul Restorer, our great Physician, great is His name – I thank you, Christ Jesus, that you restore my soul.”
And he does. Every. Single. Time.
I have not always been granted relief from physical pain – but He has always, without fail, restored my soul.
Oh praise be to my Lord and Father who lifts me high upon a rock. He is all powerful, all gracious, all good, all knowing. He is the beginning and the ending, the source of all, the one I live and long for. In Him I live and move and have my being. Blessed be the Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost, who has not withheld His love from me!
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
The world is full of victims.
I’m a victim of a bad diet. I’m the victim of my emotional problems. I’m the victim of an accident. I’m the victim of abuse. I’m the victim of prejudice. I’m the victim of what other people have done to me.
I’m offended that this is allowed and that this has happened – and because of that my identity is now – victim.
Our culture is a sinking ship that is being swamped by victims – they’re crawling through the port holes, hanging from the ratlines. And there’s a line of them standing at the pier.
As God’s child, I have no right to play this card. I do not have the option to be victimized. How can I? I have been given salvation and life itself. God has sent His spirit to dwell inside of me. I can’t behave like a child having a tantrum – I know better.
I have no right to complain, no right to rebel and crawl behind the wall of Taking Offense. He is the potter, I am the clay. I don’t know why some have one lot in life and some have another, and I will not ask why – because only God knows. It is when we grasp at knowledge that is too high for us and we have no business reaching for that we fall into pride. Just ask Eve.
I will not, and cannot be a victim. I will not be miserable. For His name’s sake. I bear HIS name and thus I will walk in righteousness – the righteousness of obedience, surrender, and joyful trust.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;”
I’m not proud to admit it, but in my very weakest and worst moments – a thought would sometimes slither through my mind: “What’s the point of living like this? I might as well be dead.”
Please understand, I was not suicidal. This is simply an example and a reminder of how when we are discouraged and feel defeated – Satan throws darts at us. That was not my thought, it was his. We must be careful, very, very careful, to be active against those darts – to bat them away with the shield of faith before we let those thoughts take seed. These sorts of ideas are fiery darts from Satan, nothing more. He wants nothing less than our utter destruction, he craves our defeat, and, always cruel, he stalks the wounded ones.
But even in the shadow of the one who craves our death, we need not fear him. the fiery darts of death will attack us – darts that will kill our peace, our joy, our hope, but Christ is with us, and has given us all the equipment we need to defend ourselves and for those moments when we feel that we can’t even do that – Christ himself intercedes for us.
“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Our physical pain will bring all kinds of hidden problems to light.
About midway through this bout with pain (roughly two years ago), I was in my room really struggling and begging to be healed. And then He spoke to me, and I heard Him clearly say: “Allison, I’m trying to heal you of things you can’t feel or see.”
Because of this pain, I have learned to truly surrender self. Because of this pain, bad habits have been forced into the light and given over to Him. Because of this pain, my faith has grown. Because of this pain, my relationship with Christ has grown in leaps and bounds and I am in a place with Him now that I don’t believe I would have ever been without this trial.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,”
Under the daily assault of all that entails being in reoccurring pain – I can assure you, I have feasted.
I have been fed like a queen – because I was in the presence of the King. Evil spirits and demonic attacks of despair, anger, panic might assault me – but there are many times when my shields have been up – and I have been able to stare those spirits in the face and eat and drink at God’s table.
How insulting, how infuriating it must be to these forces of darkness to see their enemy munching and slurping and staring insolently at them when they want to destroy me. The thought makes me laugh – which incites them even further!
My greatest “mountain top” moments have been when I was in great pain (mentally or physically). I reached out a hand to claw my way out of the pit – and that’s all He needs. The will to not let it overtake us, the will power not to wallow in self-pity, the desire to get out, a cry for help that throws us at his feet . . . and he does the rest and he leans down and pulls me out and for a beautiful respite, I am in glorious light.
“Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
Most of us know that being anointed with oil represents healing – but I don’t want to talk about that aspect right here. I want to talk about another aspect of being anointed with oil.
In the Bible, several people were anointed with oil to confirm their royal identity.
Humans are funny creatures, and it’s so easy for us to find comfort in labels. If we’re not careful, our pain can become our identity. “Oh, I suffer from fill-in-the-blank-here. But I’m a survivor, and I’m the initiated. I KNOW what it is to suffer and to be different.”
Our fallen human hearts are so susceptible to running after any label but God’s, that even in our misery, we can hold that up as our identity. But as Christ’s child, I have no business accepting any identity but HIS. When we embrace our identity as a child of Christ, nothing more and nothing less, there is no room for any other identity because our cup will runneth over with purpose, with knowledge and with fulfillment as we recognize our true identity is in Him.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,”
This verse could puzzle at first glance. Why have goodness and mercy follow me? Surely it would be better to have them before me, clearing my path like the prow of an icebreaker. How about goodness and mercy surrounding me? A super-duper force field, that’s something that sounds useful!
But then I studied the words again and applied them to chronic pain – and I understood.
Goodness and mercy feel like the things most out of reach for someone in continual pain. What can be good about continual pain? What can be merciful about prolonged suffering?
But then I saw it.
Anyone in continual pain knows that we drag chains around with us, a heavy weight whose clanking always reminds us of its presence. Chains of uncertainty, of loss, or even anguish as we struggle to get by or to understand and to accept.
But goodness and mercy behind us. That is our jet pack.
It is a driving force to propel us forward. We are no longer a victim caught in a spiraling dive – we are a unstoppable force racing across the sky and instead of chains, we leave behind a vapor trail – a beautiful, elusive trail that causes people to look up and wonder.
When people see us in painful situations with goodness and mercy flowing from our wake – they stop and wonder. Like a vapor trail in the sky, our interest is caught, our sense of beauty is aroused, and we begin to reflect, to wonder about what caused that vapor trail. And that answer is God’s love.
The goodness and mercy isn’t just for us, it’s for all those around us, watching us in our trials. Perhaps because of our trials, someone’s faith might be strengthened, or a seed might be planted to guide someone to the Truth.
“and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
We won’t be in pain forever. One way or another – the pain will end. We will stand before Him and He will wipe away every tear and we shall finally be in His presence and free of a world suffering from sin, free of bodies that won’t work, minds that torment us, and emotions that betray us.
We shall be with Him – FOREVER – and our joy shall overflow for all eternity. We shall receive new bodies with no room left for pain. There will be no distractions, no hardships, to distract from our praise of the King of Kings. The One who holds us in the palm of His hand will welcome us home at last.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” ~ Revelations 21:4